As a former police officer, I have seen at first-hand the importance of good record-keeping.
I have attended strategy meetings where a school’s detailed recording of a child’s initial disclosure was vital in the subsequent police investigation.
Clear recording of the child’s voice also ensures that they are not repeatedly asked the same questions during an investigation, needlessly re-traumatising them.
Yet record-keeping is not something that is spoken about often enough. After combing through Ofsted inspections reports between 2019 and 2022, where safeguarding was judged as ‘not effective,’ I found inadequate record-keeping was the most common reason listed for these failures.
Why is this such a problem for schools?
Unclear records cause confusion
Simply put, poor record keeping can be a barrier to safeguarding children effectively.
Unclear records may leave colleagues confused when trying to understand what has happened with a child. Although you might know a case inside out, you may not always be there to explain it to others.
In a similar vein, sharing information with partner agencies is difficult if the records are not clear. Countless child safeguarding practice reviews highlight the importance of information sharing. Can you really share information well if that information is poorly recorded?
Furthermore, inconsistently kept records may mean that you miss the build-up of minor concerns. Not rigorously recording ‘nagging doubts’ can lead schools to miss more significant issues lurking below the surface.
All staff must be aware of this need to record to ensure consistency.
Poor record-keeping makes it more difficult for schools to track trends in concerns, leaving them in the dark about current threats to their pupils.
Effectively categorising concerns allows your school to track patterns among your pupils and to address them in a robustly fashion. Poor record-keeping can, therefore, put children at risk.
Where schools go wrong
Let’s go back to those Ofsted reports mentioned earlier. Here are some quotes taken from reports where record-keeping was criticised:
“Pupils’ safeguarding records lack detail and some leaders’ actions are not recorded.”
“Records lack sufficient detail. They do not include the dates on which things take place.”
“Leaders have not kept accurate records of the concerns raised about pupils’ welfare…Leaders have not analysed records carefully to spot signs of abuse.”
“First-hand accounts are not recorded. Although concerns are dealt with satisfactorily, there is a lack of emphasis on the importance of first-hand reporting.”
Common themes include lack of detail and an emphasis on the responsibility of leaders to analyse and address the concerns, recording the actions that they take.
There is also a reminder to record concerns first hand – it is sometimes the case that a staff member raises the concern and then the Designated Safeguarding Lead records it. This risks vital information being missed in the record and would likely be scrutinised in any criminal investigation.
Helpfully, Keeping Children Safe in Education (tinyurl.com/keepingsafeed) addresses record keeping. Notably, this is within Part One of the guidance, meaning that all staff should be aware of this information.
All concerns, discussions and decisions made, and the reasons for those decisions, should be recorded in writing. Information should be kept confidential and stored securely.
It is good practice to keep concerns and referrals in a separate child protection file for each child.
Records should include:
- a clear and comprehensive summary of the concern
- details of how the concern was followed up and resolved
- a note of any action taken, decisions reached and the outcome
Remember the rule of three – summary / action / outcome. In practice, it might look something like this:
- Summary – Class teacher: Joe has come into form time this morning crying. I took him outside and asked him if he was ok. He told me: “Last night my granddad hit me and it really hurt”. I asked him where he was hit and he showed me a large bruise on his upper left arm. I asked him if he was ok and he said “Yes, but please don’t tell anyone about this because I’m scared.” I reassured him but explained that I would need to tell the DSL to ensure he would be safe. I immediately visited the DSL to explain my concern.
- Action – DSL: I am concerned that Joe is suffering significant harm due to the disclosure and injury seen. Referral made to Children’s Social Care. Referral attached. Strategy meeting held. Minutes/notes attached containing information discussed and shared.
- Outcome – DSL: S47 threshold met. Initial Child Protection Conference (ICPC) to be held on 16/04/2022. Safety Plan attached and to be reviewed at ICPC.
Strengthen your record-keeping
Consider these five ideas to ensure your record keeping is as strong and effective as it can be:
- 1) Keep it detailed Minor details may become vital later when you look back. Record in detail to avoid any ambiguity or missed information. Remember that these records may be looked at by others who will need to know exactly what was going on simply by looking at the record.
- 2) Remember the rule of three Summary/action/outcome - stick to this formula when recording concerns. This ensures that you always know what is happening with each concern.
- 3) Record it ASAP It can be easy to forget to record concerns or important minutes when you’re rushing around making referrals. Make sure you record them as soon as you get the chance. Time and date the entry if you are not using a digital system.
- 4) Use their words Record exactly what the child said, even if the words they use may mean something very different to what you understand. Also, record what questions you asked them. Recording these will assist any future investigation.
- 5) Spot check regularly Spot checking previous safeguarding records is important, especially when you have a range of staff who are updating records. Organise termly spot checks, where records can be reviewed to confirm that all the above is happening. Pick a certain student and try to read their record through a different lens. If a new DSL or another school were to read this record, would the chronology be clear?
Sharing good practice
One of the best examples of record keeping I have seen was in a primary school in Lincolnshire.
A teacher had overheard two pupils having an unusual conversation about the internet. The record had an extremely detailed summary of the conversation that the teacher had had separately with both pupils and had revealed that she had concerns that one of the pupils was being groomed.
It was clear from the entry that the teacher had dealt with the situation in an exemplary manner and immediately flagged this to the DSL.
The DSL contacted the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) the same day and made a referral – all logged and attached to the digital record keeping system. The DSL had logged the concerns they had for the pupil and the information that had been shared in the subsequent strategy meeting.
A clear outcome was also recorded. The police had launched an investigation as a result of the concern, but thankfully found that the child was not being groomed. Advice was provided to the family of the child to support them in using the internet safely.
This was a great example of record keeping. It was crystal clear to me exactly what had transpired, who was involved and what the next steps were.
Furthermore, the staff member raising the initial concern had used the child’s exact words, recorded the matter first hand and had responded to the disclosure in an appropriate way.
Record keeping like this is what schools should strive for.
James Simoniti is safeguarding consultant with Judicium Education.